Farewell, Alfred Hitchcock (almost): Frenzy, Family Plot and a book

Yep, my long (re)watch of Alfred Hitchcock is now done, unless I decide to watch the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series at some point. Happily, after the mediocrity of Torn Curtain and Topaz, Hitch went out on a win (which was the public and critical reaction at the time, too)

FRENZY (1972) owes a lot to Psycho, though it has multiple elements from other Hitchcock films, such as the innocent man on the run, a doomed romance and an opening resembling Young and Innocent. Jon Finch plays a dour divorcee accused of being a literal psycho when circumstantial evidence fingers him as the Necktie Killer terrorizing London. While innocent, Finch is one of Hitch’s least likely protagonists, a pissed-off loser whose resentment feels as if it could indeed explode into violence (and his 1970s hairstyle surprises me, given Hitch’s preference for old-school elegance); the one rape-murder we witness is considerably more graphic than in Psycho and uglier to watch (a later murder in which we see nothing at all is far more chilling). There’s a lot of humor here, some of it black (“One thing about psychopaths like the Necktie Killer, they’re good for the tourist trade.”) but also the chief detective’s wife’s fondness for exotic cooking (apparently by 1970s British standards, margaritas were extremely strange drinks). “Sometimes just thinking about the lusts of men makes me heave.”

FAMILY PLOT (1976) has two couples on opposite sides of the law, both of whom inevitably wind up pitted against each other. Barbara Harris (fake medium) and Bruce Dern (taxi-driver) are one pair, seeking to locate a missing heir in return for a ten grand payoff; jeweler William Devane and his wife Karen Black are the other, kidnapping prominent wealthy men in return for valuable diamonds that Devane then cuts up and resells. This harks back to some of the light-hearted suspense tales of the 1930s such as Young and Innocent, though it’s not as effective as Frenzy; while Devane has an oily, slimy charm that works well, Dern feels out of place here (and while he’s constantly chewing on a pipe, I don’t think he ever smokes it); Harris is talented but playing opposite Dern she doesn’t quite work either. It’s fun though, and makes  a better end to Hitch’s career than he might have had. “Don’t start to fret or our waterbed will be no fun tonight.”

Wrapping up the films meant I also wrapped up THE FILMS OF ALFRED HITCHCOCK by Robert A. Harris and Michael S. Lasky, which I’ve been reading along with my viewing. This was one of a line of Films Of books published by Citadel back in the 1970s when merely getting a complete list of films with cast and crew information was groundbreaking. Some of them don’t go much beyond that data; this one digs a little deeper, covering critical responses, backstage problems and more. I was startled to read at the end that the authors were anticipating a couple more films from Hitch under his contract with Universal, unaware he’d soon be too sick to keep going, and then dead. But he left one hell of a legacy behind him.

And that’s it until I read the Hitchcock/Truffaut book I referenced a while back.

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